Even as the brilliantly sunny Sunday of the Celebrate Israel Parade turned into an overcast and chilly start to the workweek, excitement persisted over the long-sought inclusion of a coalition of organizations representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Jews.
“The best part? No one cared,” said Jayson Littman, the founder of He’bro, a gay Jewish event-and-party-promotion firm, and a leader of Birthright Israel trips that are geared toward the LGBT community and its allies. “They clapped along to our Jew-y music, and it was uneventful.”
It was the first time a group openly identifying itself as gay had been allowed to participate. In 1999 and 2000, the LBGT synagogue Congregation Beth Simchat Torah marched after brokering a deal with the Parade Committee by which they were included in a group of other Manhattan synagogues with after-school programs. They were not allowed to put the words “gay” or “lesbian” on their banner, however.
Participants in the LGBT group included Jewish Queer Youth, a support and advocacy organization; Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and a number of others, according to a press release from JQY.
The group contained 100 members and featured rainbow-striped banners, Israeli flags trimmed with rainbows and T-shirts emblazoned with a rectangular rainbow stamped in the middle with a white Jewish star.
“The experience was amazing,” said Zac Levovitz, co-executive director of JQY, who said he perceived few hecklers. “It felt like the world was changing with every step forward.”
In 2010, the Jewish Community Relations Council became the parade’s lead organizer, replacing the Tribute to Israel Committee.
“In keeping with this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade theme, ‘Israel Branching Out,’ we are pleased to welcome the 40-plus new groups who will be marching in celebration of the State of Israel,” said Michael Mittelman, the director of Celebrate Israel, in a statement issued Friday before the march. “We look forward to seeing the over 200 participating organizations marching together at the world’s largest public celebration of Israel.”
Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, the Community Association for Jewish at-risk Cemeteries and American Friends of Hebrew University were also newcomers to the parade this year, organizers said.
People along the parade route asked the marchers the meaning of their rainbows, but Littman suspects that many of the marchers and spectators simply didn’t understand their significance.
“It’s the way it should have been,” he said, “just normal and regular.”